MetLife Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: Since 2013, the philanthropic arm of MetLife has been focused primarily on improving “financial inclusion” for economically disadvantaged communities around the world. This is manifest in a concern with improving “access” under three broad headings: Access and Knowledge, Access to Services, and Access to Insights. Each of these concentrations is centered mainly on building the capacity of economically disadvantaged people to engage with and benefit from the financial goods and services sector.

IP TAKE: MetLife does not have a higher-ed-specific program, and only a handful of higher ed institutions receive funding from this foundation each year. But scholarship providers, universities whose research aligns with MetLife’s overarching goals, and faculty researching Alzheimer's Disease can still gain backing from this funder.

PROFILE: MetLife Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the financial services and life insurance giant MetLife. Since 2013, the foundation has focused its energies on “financial inclusion,” especially in terms of improving financial literacy, responsibility, and management in low-income and middle-income communities, or as the foundation puts, it,  “to Increase the number of people able to make smart financial choices.”  To that end, the foundation’s grantmaking encompasses “traditional financial education training,” “approaches that include clear pathways to put knowledge into practice,” and “work to combine individualized financial coaching with access to and use of affordable products and services.”

The MetLife Foundation classifies these various approaches into three separate categories:

  • Access and Knowledge strives to “reach large numbers of underserved households around the world, increasing their readiness, willingness and ability to engage with the financial sector”;
  • Access to Services “works with experts in the field to deliver high-quality products and services like credit, savings, and insurance to low-income individuals”; and
  • Access to Insights “invests in research and shares what we learn with the financial services community to help enhance our approach and advance our common goals.”

    While none of these categories is explicitly connected to higher education, higher ed awardees have still made up a small portion of MetLife grantees in recent years, and the foundation has thrown its support behind some important work in higher ed.

    One area receiving support from MetLife has been its giving to scholarship and student support programs. In addition to the several hundred thousand dollars a year that generally go to scholarships for children of MetLife employees, the foundation has also given to scholarship organizations like the National Merit Scholarship Corporation and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. It has also supported organizations like College Summit, which works to prepare low-income students for college and ensure their success and persistence once they get there.

    MetLife also sometimes allocates funds to universities whose research aligns with its overarching priorities. A prominent example of this strategy came in the form of an announcement in late 2015 that MetLife would be awarding a three-year, $7.9 million grant to Duke University to help launch the CommonCents Lab, “an initiative that will apply behavioral economics to identify new ways to help millions of Americans” - particularly those in lower- and middle-class communities - to “improve their saving and spending habits.” On a smaller but still significant scale, the foundation also recently gave $100,000 as part of a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte “to establish a ‘Women in Business’ leadership program in the University’s Belk College of Business.”

    For individual researchers, there are the MetLife Foundation Awards for Medical Research. Administered by the American Federation for Aging Research, MetLife Foundation gives out up to $500,000 total per year to “provide outstanding researchers with an opportunity to freely pursue new ideas” related specifically to the study of Alzheimer’s Disease. Within this, each “major award carries a $150,000 institutional grant and a personal prize of $50,000.” Eligibility depends first and foremost on nomination from “deans of medical schools or colleges, senior members of independent nonprofit research institutions, Chairs of Neurology and Neuroscience Departments, Heads of Divisions in Neurology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience Departments, and previous major award recipients.” Furthermore, “junior faculty and/or within 10 years of their first appointment are the most competitive,” and “[p]ostdoctoral researchers are not eligible.” Past award winners are listed here.

    To get started on seeking funding related to MetLife’s financial inclusion stratefy, the first step is to fill out its online application. The foundation emphasizes that “for any area other than financial inclusion, the Foundation reviews requests for support by invitation only.”


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